After bagging several tors last week, today we could only manage two – Arch Tor, described as three large cuboid rocks, and the awesome Bellever Tor, an excellent example of an avenue tor. Today though we were interested in clapper bridges and the walk was designed to visit as many as possible, (All in Dartmoor 365 squares K11, K12, L10, L11, 12, and L13). A clapper is a flat stone and clapper bridges are composed of flat granite slabs, or imposts, supported at either end by stone piers. They are mostly on the line of pack-horse tracks and were probably built by the farm settlers in the Forest of Dartmoor. It should be added that some of the smaller clappers have no piers and are laid directly into the banks of the watercourse and some are associated with mining activities.
There were twelve walkers at the start at Postbridge and we began our hunt on the path behind the visitor centre, where there are three small miserable ones. Bridges number 4 and 5 are also nearby, over the Gawlor Brook. One of these, uniquely, is tied with metal straps. A field path to Acheson Lane, leads to a path on to the moor. Our target was Arch Tor, which may be just three lonely stones, but is rather beautiful, and an ideal place for coffee, and conjecture as to why one stone has the initials PC carved on it. We made our way to Powdermills, and clapper bridges 6-9, which blend in with the old gunpowder factory buildings, and are covered in growan and grass. Retracing our steps we took the Lich Way – a raised path over the low-lying bog, then crossed the main road and into Bellever Forest. We made a detour up to Bellever Tor. With its 360 degree views, sharp teeth, multi-faceted outcrops, and green avenues, it is too marvellous to resist, and we had our lunch there with some curious ponies. We then dropped down to the forest tracks, admired the new wooden signage, and stopped at Bellever Bridge to view the large, but broken clapper bridge (10). This once magnificent bridge originally had 4 imposts but only two remain. Accessing the moorland at the edge of the road our next target was Riddon Bridge (number 11). A gate here leads to a field path that crosses Cator Common, and joins a path which, after negotiating the stepping stones, ultimately leads to Pizwell Farm, and a small impost clapper (number 12) with 6 slabs abreast crossing the path.
Follow the Walla Brook and you arrive at Runnage Bridge (number 13), along a track lined with foliage and on the day, green veined white butterflies. From here we turned left and left again down a path which leads to CB number 14, a low lying impost beside a ford. In the trees here there are prayer flags, wind chimes, and a strange decorative wooden head, giving the impression that you are lost in a different civilization.
From there we passed the tiny cemetery, Ludgate House, and Penlee Farm where, in a field close to the track we were privileged to discreetly witness one of nature’s miracles, the birth of a calf. Finally we arrived at the clapper bridge that is the daddy of them all – the famous Postbridge Clapper Bridge (number 15), which has three imposts and two mid-stream piers and is thought to date from at least the 13th Century. During repairs in the 1970s the piers were cemented in place, and heightened to prevent flood damage resulting in the imposts not being flush with the river banks. Thus access steps had to be added at either end.
As a tribute to this man made miracle, and all the others we had visited, Ken read a poem by Paul Mortimer entitled Clapper Bridge, from his book Wind Voices published by Lapwing in 2019. Copy below by kind permission of the author. Afterwards we invaded the East Dart Hotel for drinks in the sunshine.
Thanks to everyone who came and walked eleven miles and over 15 authentic clapper bridges, as well as some other suspicious looking ones.
By Ken B
The giant’s pebble is caught mid-skim,
wedged on dry stone pillars.
the East Dart river is a reluctant
slip of amber. It drifts away
through gorse that rake the eyes
with spines and yellow.
Tight fists of bracken wait
for spring’s looms to tease them free,
weave them into summer’s pattern.
Larks swallow sky and air;
pour it back in a stream of song
and you stand on
a clapper bridge
that goes nowhere
A granite staple
cycle in its place.
By Paul Mortimer